Back in 2021, the D-backs tied for the worst record in baseball with 110 losses, and the Rangers weren't far behind with 102. Two years later, they're meeting in the World Series, which begins Friday in Texas.
Savvy trades played a large part in the rebuilding of both franchises. But other than that, they took divergent paths to pennants.
Arizona hired Mike Hazen as executive vice president and general manager in October 2016, and his first trade remains one of his best. A month after he took over, he shipped Jean Segura, Mitch Haniger and Zac Curtis to the Mariners for Ketel Marte and Taijuan Walker. Marte has been Arizona's best player over the last seven years and just won NL Championship Series MVP honors.
Hazen swapped Jazz Chisholm Jr. to the Marlins for Zac Gallen in July 2019, and Gallen has been the D-backs' best pitcher since then. He grabbed both Lourdes Gurriel Jr. and Gabriel Moreno from the Blue Jays for Daulton Varsho last December, then parlayed prospects into Tommy Pham (Mets) and Paul Sewald (Mariners) at the Trade Deadline this summer.
And while it technically wasn't a trade, Arizona also stole Christian Walker from another club, claiming him from the Reds in March 2017 after he was placed on waivers for the third time in four weeks.
Texas acquired its Championship Series MVP via trade as well, with former president of baseball operations Jon Daniels getting Adolis García from the Cardinals for cash considerations in December 2019. The Rangers hired Chris Young as GM under Daniels 12 months later and within a week, they landed Dane Dunning from the White Sox in a deal for Lance Lynn and Nathaniel Lowe from the Rays for prospects.
Later that winter, Jonah Heim arrived from the Athletics as part of a Khris Davis/Elvis Andrus transaction. Mitch Garver came from the Twins in a trade for Isiah Kiner-Falefa in March 2022.
Young assumed control of baseball operations after the Rangers fired Daniels in August last year. In his first full season at the helm of the franchise, he swung two big midseason deals by parting with prospects to get Max Scherzer from the Mets and Jordan Montgomery from the Cardinals.
The similarities in the reconstruction of the D-backs and the Rangers end with the wheeling and dealing. Arizona had 12 homegrown players on its postseason roster, trailing only Houston's 13 among the 12 playoff clubs, while Texas ranked next to last with five. The Rangers' nine free-agent signings tied the Phillies for the most, while the D-backs were second to last with five.
The D-backs had two homegrown All-Stars this year. Geraldo Perdomo signed for just $70,000 out of the Dominican Republic in 2016, while NL Rookie of the Year favorite Corbin Carroll was the 16th overall pick in the 2019 Draft.
Most of Arizona's self-developed players were role players in 2023, though several of them have come up huge in the postseason. Kevin Ginkel (22nd round, 2016) has been a lockdown set-up man all year and has yet to give up a run in October. Alek Thomas (second round, 2018) has provided four playoff homers and Brandon Pfaadt (fifth round, 2020) has permitted just two runs in his last three starts.
The Rangers have fewer homegrown players, but rookie Josh Jung (No. 8 overall, 2019) became just the third All-Star they've signed and developed since 2004. Evan Carter (a surprise second-rounder in 2020) provided a much-needed late-season spark and has starred in the playoffs, while Leody Taveras ($2.1 million, Dominican Republic, 2016) has blossomed into an everyday center fielder.
Though the free agent market can be a risky and expensive proposition, Texas' investment of more than $800 million during the last two offseasons has mostly paid off. Corey Seager and Marcus Semien, signed for a combined $500 million on the same day (Dec. 1, 2021), will finish near the top of the American League MVP balloting. Jon Gray and Nathan Eovaldi came aboard for a combined $90 million and helped revamp the pitching staff.
By contrast, the D-backs' most significant free agent is Kelly, who had yet to pitch in the Major Leagues and had spent his last four seasons in Korea before signing in December 2018. His deal was worth a guaranteed $5.5 million over two years and grew into four years and $14.5 million when the team picked up a pair of options.
Recent World Series championships have been built in a variety of ways. The 2022 Astros were mostly homegrown with a split between the Draft and international signings, the 2021 Braves and 2020 Dodgers depended heavily on the Draft, the 2019 Nationals leaned on free agents and the 2018 Red Sox benefitted from trades. We'll soon know which strategy worked best in 2023.